Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Four Remarkable Women

Organic farming on Southern Vancouver Island owes a great debt to four remarkable women: Mary Alice Johnson, Tina Fraser Baynes, Marti Martin-wood and Rebecca Jehn.

Today - in honour of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day - it is my pleasure to re-release a documentary about their early efforts.

It was directed and filmed in 1995 by Helen Rezanowich of the Media Network Society. I know that it inspired a number of women to begin farming… including myself!

The film captures the challenges that women face if they want to farm. But it is also about the joy and value that comes from growing food for yourself and others. I know many women farming today will relate to the feelings and ideas expressed in this film.

Many of the projects these women helped start – such as Moss Street Market – remain vibrant and successful to this day. I’m also very happy to report that all four women are still actively farming.  

Mary-Alice Johnson, for example, has transformed land in Sooke into a highly-productive and successful farm, ALM Farm. She and her business partner Marika Nagasaki grow a full range of vegetables, including fifty types of heritage tomatoes, and coveted salad greens. They also have poultry and pigs, run a busy seed company (Full Circle Seeds) and protect wild natural spaces on the edge of the farm. The whole operation is certified organic, employs several people and grosses over $100 000 a year!

Tina Fraser Baynes also continues to farm organically at Corner Farm in North Saanich. She has a busy farm-gate stand, and has helped start the North Saanich Farm Market. She also teaches a popular course at Camosun College about how to start a farm.

Marti Martin-Wood runs Two Wings Farm in Metchosin with her husband Bernie. Their seed company was founded in 2000 and continues to provide high-quality, certified organic and open-pollinated seeds.

Rebecca Jehn operates Rebecca’s Garden, a certified organic market garden in Saanich. She is also well known for her preserves and seeds. She continues to hold workshops on seed saving, plant propagation, harvesting and marketing produce, as well as canning and preserving the harvest.

I asked Mary Alice if she had a word of advice for young women considering farming. Her answer? “Well, I worry about people being too idealistic about it. It is very hard work. But it can be done – there is a huge demand for local and organic. People will thank you and value your efforts. It’s an extremely rewarding way to make a living.”

I hope you will enjoy this video and join me in celebrating four remarkable farmers for this year’s International Women’s Day.